That question, which we have examined in detail here at Legal Schnauzer, received national attention recently with a post from Scott Horton of Harper's.org.
Horton does not use the "C" word in his account. He uses somewhat more charitable language--"irregular," "unsettling," "doesn't look right"--to describe Wingate's shenanigans in the Minor case.
Horton's assessment of Wingate's performance can be summed up in these two statements:
* "Most judges would have shut down this prosecution at the start."
* "Every significant ruling by Judge Wingate in the case broke in favor of the prosecution. Some were truly breathtaking."
That's a kind way of saying Wingate, a Reagan appointee, acted corruptly in his handling of a trial that resulted in unlawful prison terms for three Mississippi Democrats.
We've been showing for some time on this blog that Wingate acted corruptly, and we will continue to show that when we soon begin a summary of our 25-part "Mississippi Churning" series.
What is shocking, or "breathtaking" to use Horton's term, is just how blatant Wingate was about it. He made little, if any, effort to cover up what he was doing.
I suspect that's because he knows that his actions will spark little, if any, outrage in the legal community. Lawyers, even the smartest and most honest among them, have a natural inclination to protect fellow members of the clan, at least a little. When Horton interviewed lawyers in Mississippi about the Minor case, many of them--even those who disagreed vehemently with the judges handling of the case--seemed to pull their punches. They were reluctant to call Wingate what he is: a crook.
Well, I'm not a lawyer, and I have no reason to pull punches. So I will say what lawyers will not: Henry Wingate is a dirtbag, and his actions probably rise to the level of criminal activity. Someone should look into impeachment proceedings against him, and he probably belongs behind bars.
Want to get an idea for just how corrupt Wingate was in his handling of the Minor case? Check out this post. Or here is another one, that shows Wingate actually used Mississippi state bribery law in order to get a conviction in federal court. I'm not making this stuff up, folks.
U.S. Rep. Steve Cohen (D-TN) introduced the Minor case at the U.S. House Judiciary Committee hearing on selective prosecution. Hopefully, he can lead the way on exposing Wingate, who is every bit as corrupt and evil as U.S. District Judge Mark Fuller, the man who is largely responsible for unlawfully putting former Alabama Governor Don Siegelman in federal prison.
Horton adds some important information to the Minor saga:
* He points out that federal prosecutors easily can time the return of an indictment to coincide with the availability of a certain, desired judge. This is a quaint form of judge shopping, which prosecutors almost certainly practiced to ensure that Wingate would handle the Minor case.
* He points out a key fact that we have addressed here at Legal Schnauzer: Wingate's jury instrution on bribery did not require a quid pro quo, even though Fifth Circuit precedent clearly requires such a "something-for-something" arrangement. This jury instruction, Horton says, was "unconscionable." I've got a better word for it: corrupt.
* He points out another key fact that we have noted: Wingate wrongfully did not allow the defense to present expert witnesses, showing that judges Wes Teel and John Whitfield made rulings that were correct under the law at the time. "Wingate was rather dramatically remapping Mississippi law as he went along," Horton writes. Bingo!
* He notes that Wingate allowed the jury to keep copies of the government indictment from day one, with no corresponding documents from the defense. And yet when it came to the complex jury instructions, Wingate did not allow jurors to have a copy of those. And the judge actually conducted voir dire examination of defense witnesses outside hearing of the jury, reviewing in advance what would be asked and how it would be answered. Wingate took a "blue pencil" to the testimony, "essentially doing the prosecution's work for them," Horton writes.
Henry Wingate's handling of the Minor case is a pox on American justice. Let's hope Rep. Cohen can lead the effort in the new year to expose scoundrels like Wingate, who have taught us the true perverted meaning of "justice" in the Age of Rove.
A couple of points I would add to Horton's account:
* This bears repeating: Not only did Wingate not get the law right in the Minor case, he did not even get the right kind of law right. He unlawfully used Mississippi state bribery law in crafting jury instructions for a federal case. That's a bit like getting convicted in South Dakota based on South Carolina law.
* Horton says he does not like the defendants' chances of winning on appeal in the Minor case, citing the GOP-controlled and notoriously partisan nature of the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals. If Horton is right about that, we might as well shut down our courts, blow up the law schools, tear up all bar cards, and start over from scratch. (Actually, I think that's a pretty good idea anyway.) This case, by law, has to be overturned on too many grounds to mention here. Democrats and others who are concerned about justice should watch this appeal with the utmost concern. Let me state again: By law, this case must be overturned on multiple grounds. If it is not, I would suggest that Congressional action must be taken.
* Here is an even more important point: Wingate was leading a trial that accused Mississippi state judges Wes Teel and John Whitfield of honest-services mail fraud. At the heart of that offense is using the U.S. mails in furtherance of an unlawful and dishonest scheme. We have shown that Teel and Whitfield did not even come close to committing that offense. But guess who almost certainly did? Wingate himself. Many of Wingate's unlawful rulings came in open court, in front of God and everybody. But if the U.S. mails were used at any point in his scheme to rob citizens of their intangible right to honest services--and Wingate had reason to foresee that the mails would be used--Wingate committed a federal crime. And the same would apply to any judges on the Fifth Circuit who vote to uphold the unlawful trial verdict in the Minor case. The mails certainly will be used in the appeals process.
* What about impeachment of a federal judge? That is a rarity in our country, and my research indicates it would be unlikely in Wingate's case. But the issue already is on the table in Wingate's neck of the woods. And naturally, the judge in the cross hairs is a Democratic appointee, by Bill Clinton. But compare the alleged wrongdoing of this federal judge to what we know Wingate has done. Whose behavior was worse. Given that Wingate is responsible for three human beings being wrongfully imprisoned, I don't think it's even a close call.